The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Community

March 24, 2014

Bookstore owner witnessed decline and Rise of downtown

Hustad believes new development will improve business

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"Then Jerry Crest came along and we became a bundle of energy. Since 1975, when I first came here, this is the first time we've been organized."

Gregg Andersen, who owns the Gallery 19 business just down the block, said he also has seen a change since the Front Street business owners became active with the City Center Partnership. Hustad said Andersen has taken over for Crest as the person who keeps everyone informed about what is going on.

"I know everybody on this block," Andersen said. "I know their first name and what they're doing. We've really come together."

Hustad's business started its downward slide a few years after a roof was built over other stores along about two blocks of Front Street, including Brett's Department Store, to create the downtown Mankato Mall. It was an effort to entice regional customers to continue visiting downtown's restaurants and retail businesses.

"At first we thought it was a benefit to the area," Hustad said. "But pretty soon everyone started to leave."

In 1991 River Hills Mall opened even farther away from downtown than the Madison East Center, creating a new bustling retail area. Brett's Department Store, a downtown retail hub that had been on Front Street since 1868, closed in 1992.

The previous decade and the following decade were tough for Hustad and his downtown neighbors.

"During the 1980s, when the block started going down hill, I let my business go," he said. "Everyone was leaving. I thought the building next door to me was going to be torn down. There were a lot of boarded-up windows. It was a bleak situation back then. I'd have days where no one came into the store."

Andersen's photography studio was on the other side of the downtown strip back then. He owned a shop on Riverfront Drive that was bought by the city, demolished and turned into a parking lot. At that time city officials hoped more parking would help the businesses in that area. Andersen bought his Front Street building, which has a pet-grooming business in the storefront portion, in 2011.

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